A solution to the homelessness issue in Modesto is not going to be found under a rock, nor is it going to be found in a politician's newly adopted political agenda and talking points. The solution to the issue of Modesto's homelessness is varied and complex. How does one address the issue of homelessness in a city with almost 14% unemployment and with very few industries or large scale employers to provide jobs for these people?
These and other pertinent questions have plagued well-intentioned people, church pastors, and homeless shelter administrators and city leaders for decades now. There simply does not seem to be one solution to Modesto's homelessness issue that will be a fit for all, so to speak.
Over the years, several resources have been created for the homeless in Modesto. Some of these resources include missions, homeless shelters, a shelter for women, a home for runaways and a crisis center for homeless children. Still the homeless problem runs rampant in Modesto and there does not seem to be any end to the pitiful plight of the homeless in this town.
It is this commentator's belief that a two-pronged approach to the homelessness problem must be derived. (The program would be called The Homeless Partnership Alliance) The first pronged approach is to establish programs for the homeless, including job services, and a coupon program. In the jobs program, employers would be provided tax incentives for creating jobs for the homeless. The Chamber of Commerce would advertise and promote the local employers who are participating in the program to boost morale and provide those businesses with additional clientele. Once a year the employers who participate in the program would be invited to a large dinner hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Speakers would include local shelter and mission operators, city leaders and community activists. A contingent of homeless citizens would be invited to the dinner to provide testimony on how the program is helping them.
The coupon program, which this commentator has proposed to the City Council on at least one occasion, basically would be run as follows: Churches and local civic organizations would sell coupon books that could be purchased by Modesto citizens to provide to the homeless. The coupons could be redeemed for food, clothing and other necessities by the homeless. The idea behind the program would be to give the coupons to the homeless instead of money. This would help curb the endless cycle of panhandling that is so preeminent in Modesto, seemingly at every shopping center or public place in town.
The second component of the two-pronged approach to the homeless problem would be enforcement. Modesto Police would be provided extra funds to enforce panhandling laws in Modesto ("tough love"). Homeless people who panhandle would be given stiff penalties, including extended community service, if they panhandle in the City of Modesto. Repeat offenders would be facing prison time, and if they are on any kind of program, such as the EBT program, they would be facing possible exclusion from the program for up to a year if they repeatedly panhandle. The enforcement component would be based on the rationale that the homeless also bear some responsibility for solving their problems and that panhandling is an irresponsible and offensive way for them to be coping.
It would be this commentator's hope that with the jobs program, the coupon program, and the enforcement, coupled with the tax incentives for participating businesses and Chamber of Commerce dinner, that Modesto would be well on its way to solving the homeless problem within its city limits. As mentioned earlier, the solution is not to be found under a rock. But perhaps if people get together and search their hearts as well as develop some "tough love," they will have come a long ways toward solving this almost insurmountable mess in this town.